BALTIMORE, April 10, 2013—Late yesterday, Johns Hopkins University’s student judiciary committee unanimously overturned the decision of its student senate to deny official recognition to the pro-life student group Voice for Life on the basis that it might make people feel “uncomfortable.” The decision means that the group will now have the ability to reserve meeting rooms, host speakers, and sponsor campus programs and activities—abilities it was denied under the student senate’s previous decision. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) wrote to Johns Hopkins’ student judiciary on Monday urging this result.
“We are gratified that the student judiciary agreed that the student senate’s denial of recognition to Voice for Life was wrong,” said Robert Shibley, Senior Vice President of FIRE. “If Johns Hopkins’ promises about the free and open exchange of ideas on campus are to have any meaning, student groups must not be denied recognition simply because they espouse a viewpoint that’s unpopular with student leaders.”
Johns Hopkins’ Student Government Association Senate was explicit about its viewpoint-based reasons for rejecting Voice for Life. The minutes from the March 12 meeting, at which Voice for Life was denied recognition, refer to concerns about “making people feel uncomfortable,” and later emails from unidentified SGA officials released by the national organization Students for Life referred to “the right to protect our students from things that are uncomfortable” and compared Voice for Life’s viewpoint to racism. For its part, the Johns Hopkins administration did not agree with the student senate’s assessment. It instead concluded that the group’s proposed activities, which included controversial but lawful “sidewalk counseling” near abortion clinics, were “fully in accord with the university’s robust commitment to the values of free expression and open debate.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America are described at thefire.org.
Robert Shibley, Senior Vice President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org